Racial equity report card gives Washington lawmakers a C+

Refugees, immigrants, advocates and service providers rally on the Olympia capitol steps during the annual Refugee and Immigrant Legislative Day in 2015. (Photo by Venice Buhain.)
Refugees, immigrants, advocates and service providers rally on the Olympia capitol steps during the annual Refugee and Immigrant Legislative Day in 2015. (Photo by Venice Buhain.)

A state social justice organization has given Washington’s Legislature a middling grade of C­-plus for addressing concerns of people of color in 2015.

“Our Legislature has either failed to address or made very little progress in addressing a plethora of issues that specifically impact communities of color,” according to a report released earlier this month by the Washington Community Action Network.

The network studied the Legislature’s track record in its last session that ran from January to July and analyzed how 34 bills fared in the 2015 session and how all 147 legislators voted on the bills.

Moreover, the Washington Community Action Network said both Democrats and Republicans — which each head the opposite chambers — made little headway in the 2015 session on issues affecting people of color.

“The two chambers did not have statistically different performance despite differences in party majorities and leadership. Of the 34 positive racial equity bills examined here, 11 bills never received a floor vote in either chamber,” the report said.

While the bills in the report don’t all specifically address people of color, the group says these issues have a greater impact on communities of color than on Washington residents as a whole.

Of the 34 bills, three passed: putting tighter controls on the release of juvenile records, boosting early education standards and helping homeless youth.The group also praised the defeats of two bills that would have loosened restrictions on payday loans and debt collectors, which they say would have affected poor communities negatively.

Among the failed bills the report noted were the ones addressing raising minimum wages, sick leave, wage theft, housing, bilingual education, school breakfasts for the poor, abolishing the death penalty, oversight of police, health insurance matters, voting rights and air pollution that hits poor communities.

Party lines

Individual legislators almost always voted along party lines on these bills, regardless of the racial make­up of their districts, according to the report.

The report found that GOP lawmakers in districts with large percentages of minorities tallied numerous votes against Democratic legislation on insurance, health, sick leave, wage increases, and air pollution.

For example, the eastern Yakima Valley’s 15th District, is 60 percent non­white. Its legislators — Sen. Jim Honeyford, (R-­Sunnyside), and Reps. Bruce Chandler, (R-­Granger), and David Taylor, (R­-Moxee) — all voted against more than 40 percent of the bills that watched by the group. 

In the upcoming session, which starts in January, the Washington Community Action Network wants legislators to pursue most of the bills that went nowhere in the last session, including combating wage theft, raising the minimum wage, easier access to health insurance, police oversight and wider use of school breakfasts, to name a few.

Another legislative priority for the organization is education, especially for students with limited English skills.

Significant disparities exist in access to opportunity. American Indian, African American, Latino, Pacific Islander, and English Language Learner students lag far behind white students in math and reading by the time they reach the third grade,

Environmental protection measures are another priority in 2016, according to the report, which noted how pollution disproportionately affects minority communities, such as farmworkers and tribes.

“Waste dumps, landfills, major roadways, sewage and industrial facilities are all more likely to locate in low-income neighborhoods of color, exacerbating racial disparities in disease and illness,” the report said.

Read the report here.